MONEY MAY NOT be everything, but when there's more of it than usual, it certainly can make a governor and his vision for his state look good. That's the case in Maryland this year -- where there's a fine new surplus -- and Gov. Harry Hughes has made the most of it in a thoughtful State of the State address to the General Assembly. With a budget proposal that is 9 percent higher than last year's, the governor has set forth an impressive agenda that accents help for Maryland's poor, for its young and old and for its disabled -- as well as aid to "protect and improve the quality of life of all our citizens."
Aside from routine criticism that maybe the money would be spread too thinly over a broad range of social programs, complaints from the lawmakers so far have been negligible. Like Gov. Hughes, most of the legislators recognize the importance of complementary programs that would address a varied set of human issues: child abuse, foster care, education, juvenile delinquency and drug and alcohol addiction. No doubt there will be some legislative shifting around of the money figures proposed by the governor, as well as some of the inevitable pork-barrel rolling that any legislature worth its salt insists on doing. But overall, the budget proposal is as solid as it is sensitive to areas of chief concern among Marylanders.
Less dear to constituent hearts, but equally important and also addressed, is the prisons issue. So far, Gov. Hughes is emphasizing ways to decrease the prison population through other programs. That can work -- to a point. Overcrowding is serious, though, and some additional facilities may be necessary nonetheless.
The combination of bounty and social concern in the budget could effect one other change in Annapolis this year: if they don't watch out, the lawmakers may not have any knock-down, drag-out debate over spending proposals. But surely they will find some way to enliven the executive-legislative relationship before checking out of the capital.